The importance of educating government officials of European Union (EU) member and candidate countries about European racial and ethnic anti-discrimination law is the focus of a $200,000 grant made to the Migration Policy Group (MPG).
MPG, founded in 1995 and based in Brussels, works to mobilize around issues of migration, diversity and anti-discrimination. The organization facilitates dialogue between European stakeholders to stimulate well-informed policy debate.
In the next two years, the geo-political landscape of Europe will experience drastic change, as 10 additional countries join the EU in 2004.
Entry into the EU involves compliance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community. EU membership also requires the adoption of all EU legislation into national law.
In June 2000, based on the general anti-discrimination clause in Article 13 of the Treaty on Establishing the European Community, the EU adopted a directive establishing the principle of equal treatment regardless of racial or ethnic origin. The directive calls for:
- the prohibition of racial and ethnic discrimination, harassment and victimization;
- effective remedies and sanctions to combat discrimination;
- the shifting of the burden of proof to the defendant in non-criminal proceedings; and
- the establishment of specialized bodies for the promotion of equal treatment.
EU member states must comply with the directive by July 2003. Candidate countries must comply by the date of their accession.
MPG’s Anti-Discrimination Program includes the joint project, “Implementing European Anti-discrimination Law,” in partnership with Interights and the European Roma Rights Center. The project is based on research conducted in the 26 member and candidate countries which examined existing legislation and identified gaps in the compliance with the EU directive. Reports on each of the 26 countries were published in 2001. A comparative analysis of the situation in the 26 countries has also been published with support from the Foundation.
Based on the reports, MPG identified three areas of focus:
- litigation, which is handled by MPG’s partners in the project;
- advocacy, to ensure that the EU anti-discrimination remains high on the political agenda; and
- workshops, to educate government officials, NGOs and other key individuals about anti-discrimination issues.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation grant, along with funding from the Open Society Institute, will support the continuing workshops, which bring together judges, magistrates, lawyers, NGOs, government officials, and politicians from member states and candidate countries. The workshops, the first of which was held in Romania in 2001 prior to the Mott grant, provide educational opportunities for those who must establish and implement anti-discrimination law.
Isabelle Chopin, director of the Diversity and Anti-Discrimination Program at MPG, said recently that one of the goals of the workshops is to emphasize the importance of anti-discrimination policies to existing EU members as well as the candidate countries.
“We want to work with all 26 countries on an equal footing,” Chopin said. “The countries that have applied for accession sometimes feel like, despite the image given, the standard of anti-discrimination law in EU member states is not always as high as it should be.” She added that candidate countries are, however, seeking to gain from the experience and expertise of member states.
Another activity the Mott funding supports is legislative drafting of anti-discrimination law.
“In some cases countries will provide MPG with a copy of their proposed legislation and we will provide comments on how the proposal can be improved in order to comply with the directive,” Chopin said.
One particular challenge at the moment, Chopin added, is ensuring that all parts of the directive are correctly understood.
“We have to really focus on the countries that have not started the process to ensure their legislation is adopted prior to their entry into the EU,” she said. “For those that have a legislative proposal, we have to ensure their proposal meets with the directive’s requirements.”